Posts tagged ‘womanism’

Black, Successful, and (not so) Unhappy

It’s taken me a long time to talk about the now-infamous Helena Andrews profile on Black Girl Blogging, because it made me so upset. Not because I think there is truth to how lonely, sad, and unlovable black women are, but because I know that there isn’t much truth to it to begin with.

What really sticks out to me are the lack of narratives about Black women who are happy for reasons other than finding and keeping a man. The “single, sad, lonely Black woman” meme assumes that without a man we can’t be happy and can’t even begin our search for happiness.

My black girl blogger-in-crime Rosetta Thurman has started a “happiness project” of her own called The Diary of a Happy Black Woman. A few nights ago on Twitter, she talked about why she has decided to embark on this new project.

I hadn’t thought about this angle of the story until I saw it mentioned in the above tweet. What really has annoyed me about the whole damn dialog about the poor, single Black women is that it not only paints all Black women as unlovable, but it also assumes that until we find a man we can’t be happy or fulfilled. It even pre-supposes that Black women should be perpetually unhappy.

Yes, there are Black women out there who are sad and who are lonely…and perhaps who are also angry. But those feelings often have very little to do with their marital status (or lack thereof). Many of us  can find ourselves feeling that way even after we’ve found the supposedly elusive relationship with a successful Black man. I should know: I was one of them for quite some time before ending my last immediate long-term relationship (another story entirely).

It’s true that I have since then started a new relationship with a new partner, but I spent the better part of 2009 getting back in tune with the things that make me happy outside of being with someone who liked me and cared about me and took me out on dates and stuff.

In 2009, I lost 42 pounds after getting back in touch with physical activities I love (yoga, dance, walking/jogging), and doing something else I loved too–cooking delicious, healthy meals. I explored new angles and avenues to the media career I have chosen for myself and began to carve my own niche. I traveled to different cities and went to some great conferences. I kept in touch with old friends and made new ones. And I did all of that despite not having  a boo by my side to witness me doing all of this. I did the “brave” thing and started last year without a relationship, having broken up with my then-boyfriend around this time last year. And I regret not one damn second of it.

My soror and friend Cheri had a great response to the profile on Helena Andrews, with whom she happened to have attended Columbia once upon a time:

She said “I’m a successful black woman” several times, listed off the things that validated the statement, and then says she isn’t happy. I know many women who describe themselves this way, and they too end up in that same place at the end of the sentence. “I’m a successful black woman, why can’t I find love or happiness?”

It might be worth while to go back to the beginning of the sentence and see where we made a wrong turn.

What is success? I’ve heard it described a number of ways: having a degree (or two), a house, a car, a job, the right clothes, and/or invites to the right parties. Some women define it as beginning married or having a child. But in many cases, all of this “success” is not accompanied with happiness.

If what you want is happiness, then are you really successful without it?

Someone along the way told us the work is done once you get the tools. We want a cake – so we get the eggs, sugar, and the flour…. but we leave them on the counter and go get ready for the club. We go out, drink, dance, have a good time, and wonder why we don’t have a cake with cute rose petal frosting details when we get back. We want the results but have not done the work.

In this first week of 2010, I’ve had the chance to think about what new things I want to do at Black Girl Blogging this year and in years to come. If there’s one thing Helena Andrews’s new book Bitch is the New Black and the accompanying profile in the Washington Post showed me, it was the need for more Black women telling their stories and having their stories told their way. Stay tuned and join me as I feature and highlight Black women (and a few men) who have made their lives and their work about a pursuit–or several pursuits–of happiness.

Say it to my face!: Anonymity, Sexism and Social Networks

I recently signed up to try the current social network craze, formpsring.me. Formspring takes Facebook’s Honesty Box a step further, allowing people to submit questions to ask you either anonymously or not. I’ve never been into the Honesty Box because I wasn’t that pressed to find out what people think about me; I come from the school of thought that says: “if you got something to say about me, say it to my face.”

But, the straight forward Q&A nature of Formspring really intrigued me. I find that Twitter moves too fast sometimes to allow for a pure Q&A type of discussion. So as other people’s formspring answers showed up on my Twitterfeed, I felt compelled to check it out and see what this particular social network was about.

Most of the questions I got were tame. Lots of people were curious about why I moved to DC from LA, where my parents went to high school since they are both DC natives, what I thought about weaves versus natural hair, what grade I would give President Obama, etc.

Then, about halfway through the q & a, someone asked me my views about pre-marital sex.

Many of you who read my blog know that I support grown adults making decisions about sex for themselves…and for parents to teach their kids the importance of protection and sexual maturity. So I reiterated that in my answer.

But the anonymous questioner didn’t stop there. He (as I am sure this was a man) also began a line of questioning and judgements that would be what many call “sex-shaming”…better known as “slut-shaming.”

Do you think you’ll marry your current boo? (too early to tell…and if I knew I wouldn’t tell someone who insisted on being anonymous)

Oh but you’re already giving it up? For shame! (I’m grown, son. you don’t know my life)

He needs to put a ring on your finger…you need to learn some self-respect!

[Note: this was edited/paraphrased as the original dialogues/questions have been deleted so as not to give power to sexist, judgmental, and dogmatic behavior]

Wow.

I was hurt… I was being triggered. I felt like my relationship was being questioned by people who don’t even know me nor my partner. And I was being bullied for no reason at all.

I am not the first woman to experience sexist attacks on the internet and/or social networks. One thing about social networking platforms that allow for anonymous or semi-anonymous posting/reactions….and some people use these spaces for more harm than good.

from The WareHouse (@carolinaware):

We all type things that others may not want to see sometimes. It happens. Now you DO HAVE THE OPTION NOT TO HAVE IT STREAM to your Twitter/Facebook and not to answer all the questions. The only problem with the latter is that you have some people who LOVE TO START SHIT and will be asking questions they shouldn’t. You don’t answer and ignore it, then they step from behind the shadows..Now if they had to ask you behind the mask, then they probably shouldn’t have been asking anyway and….well…you get the picture right?

This all very true indeed. But I still believe that this issue is complicated by gender. What learned from my own experiences and observation of the way Formspring works is that women are more likely to be asked rude and/or offensive questions than men are. In fact, one of my male followers made the point that most men would never have to to deal with the kind of questions and implications that I or other women (cis or trans) would have to deal with in online spaces.

Too often we are told that the internet is a playground for boys and a dangerous place for girls…but as long as we have d-bags who are using the internet in sexist, racist, and/or misogynistic and transmisogynistic ways, I worry that we still have a ways to go before the telling of this story changes.

So what do you all think? Does the anonymity of the internet allow more room for sexism and other forms of oppression? What can be done to change this?

Vogue Italia’s Black Barbie: A Step Forward or a Step Back?

This month, Vogue Italia is doing another take on last year’s successful Black Issue: a fashion spread featuring all Black Barbies.

from Jezebel:

Last year, Italian Vogue shook the fashion world with its “All Black issue, which sold out on many newsstands. This year, the July issue features Kristen McMenamy on the cover, but comes with a delightful supplement devoted to black Barbies.

It is Barbie’s 50th birthday, after all, and Mattel does have those new black Barbies to promote. And while this supplement is not full-sized like a regular magazine (it’s about 6 inches wide; 7.5 inches long) somehow the doll scale makes sense.

As a girl growing up in Los Angeles, my mother always made sure to buy us Black dolls, especially Barbies. I even had a Black Ken doll! And while it was great to have a doll that looked like me, the reality was that it still sold me and other little girls dangerous ideas about what a woman’s body should look like, and what was considered beautiful. In preparing to write this post, I spoke with a friend of mine who happens to be a Black dad with a young daughter. He told me that while he reluctantly buys his daughter Barbies because she loves them, he is concerned about what it teaches his little girl about having a positive self-image. As a result, he makes it his responsibility to teach his daughter about how special and beautiful she is as a black girl.

I loved Vogue Italia’s Black Issue last year. I loved that it featured Tocarra, a voluptuous, curvy woman who was far from a size 2. And I like the concept of using all Black Barbies in a Vogue spread. But I have to wonder if it is actually a step backwards. Barbies themselves use the white female body as a the prototype for beauty. Even the new Black Barbies do not have the hips, ass and curves that myself and other Black women possess. It’s great that Mattel has barbies of all shade, but what about all sizes? What taking into consideration that other races and ethnic groups have different ideas of what women’s bodies actually look like? The fashion industry often creates fashions, ad campaigns, and yes, even Barbie photo spreads that leave Black female bodies out of the equation and therefore, out of the question when defining what a “perfect body” looks like and who is able to possess it.

So what does everyone else think? Is the Black Barbie issue of Vogue Italia actually progress? Or does it still perpetuate anxiety and even denial of the Black female body as one that is indeed normal and beautiful?

The Sotomayor Hearings and White Male Condescension

Picture Courtesy of the New York Times

Picture Courtesy of the New York Times

By the way: For those of you who missed the hearings or just want to see a good rundown of who’s who in all of this: Check out Adam Serwer’s post over at the American Prospect.

Okay, I’ll admit it.

I really did watch all 4 days of the Sotomayor hearings.  I didn’t watch so much to hear what the Republicans were going to say. I was pretty sure that they were going to harp on her speeches and the “wise latina” comment in particular, and do some failed race-baiting. I really did it to hear Sonia Sotomayor speak, and to watch her play hardball in the face of all of that racist and sexist adversity.

But what I wasn’t counting on was how offensive the tone of Republican’s questioning was going to be. I was more offended by the condescending and bullying tone peole like Tom Coburn used than the words themselves. They spoke to Sotomayor for 4 days as if she was a 12 year old on the street. Jessica Faye Carter talks more about this in her column at True Slant:

There’s another way to describe how certain Committee members have spoken to Judge Sotomayor: microaggressively.

The term “racial microaggressions” was originally coined in 1970 by Dr. Chester Pierce, a psychiatrist, to describe the (sometimes unconscious) mistreatment and humiliation of Blacks by Whites. But the definition has evolved over time to include behavior exhibited towards women and all people of color.  According to Dr. Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University, microaggresions are subtle behaviors that communicate slights, hostility, insults, or disrespect toward a specific person or group. In other words, they are put-downs that don’t really seem like put-downs—making them all the more challenging to identify and address.

Microaggressions generally fall into three categories: microassaults, an overtly racist act or communication, microinsults, which are demeaning or insensitive behaviors, and microinvalidations, or the negation and invalidation of a person’s life experiences.  The more subtle microaggressions were not only present in Judge Sotomayor’s hearing, but seem to have gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media.

Still don’t believe me or Jessica? Look at this example:

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed unconvinced that Judge Sotomayor, a sitting appellate judge, understood specific legal doctrines. So he questioned her on them, praising her when she answered correctly—as if he were her instructor—and consistently interrupting her as she attempted to respond:

SEN. GRAHAM: When Judge Rehnquist says he was a strict constructionist, did you know what eh (sic/he) was talking about?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: I think I understood what he was referencing, but his use is not how I go about looking at –

SEN. GRAHAM: What does strict constructionism mean to you?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Well, it means that you look at the Constitution as its written or statutes as they are written and you apply them exactly by the words.

SEN. GRAHAM: Right. Would you be an originalist?

JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: Again, I don’t use labels. And — because –

SEN. GRAHAM: What is an originalist?

via Transcript – Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings, Day 2 – Text – NYTimes.com.

It is wholly appropriate for Mr. Graham to ask Judge Sotomayor what a specific legal term means to her, or whether she considers herself to fit into a certain legal category. But the questions testing her legal knowledge are a microinsult.

This is just another example of sexist and racist overtones to the treatment of Sotomayor at the hearings and in the press.  Moreover, they went back to Sotomayor’s background, saying that it would influence decisions she’d make as a Supreme Court Justice.  Right, as if their white male backgrounds wouldn’t. Perhaps if I got the feeling that the Republicans not supporting Sotomayor held themselves to the same standard, I wouldn’t be so bothered by this particular concern, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they do not.

Let’s face it, most of the white people–mostly males–who are coming forward as being so strongly against Sotomayor’s confirmation are doing so because they are deathly afraid of  smart woman of color who has truly gotten to where she is on her own merit and ability. They are afraid of the idea that she may very well do a better job than a white male and could quite possibly be smarter than them.

With that said, I am so very proud of Sonia Sotomayor and the intelligence, grace, and humility she showed during the course of this 4-day hearing. She makes me so proud to be a woman of color at this particular moment in our nation’s history. That wise Latina really knows how to shake them haters off.

We Can Do Better

Today I am taking part in a blog-a-thon against hate. It’s been a week since the murder of Dr. George Tiller. Dr. Tiller was a target of many extreme pro-life groups and had feared for his life because, alongside health care and contraceptives, he also provided women and girls with a choice to have an abortion.

I am most upset at how Tiller was murdered–in front of his friends and family in his church, and in the name of God. Dr. Tiller was a target of many Christian pro-life extremists, and his death is a clear act of domestic terrorism. Murder suspect Scott Roeder has stated that he killed Tiller because he provided women with abortions, which went against his Christian values. He recently warned that there would be more violence against pro-choice doctors and establishments to come.

But Dr. Tiller was a person of faith, active in his church family, and was also pro-choice. I was raised in the church and I consider myself a progressive Christian as well. I believe in providing girls  women with the choice of having an abortion, especially those who have been raped or are suffering from fetal complications; this was the case with many of Tiller’s patientsMany evangelicals would argue that you cannot be a Christian and be pro-choice. I beg to differ. I doubt that the God I serve would condemn me for believing that every woman and girl has a right to quality health care and access to affordable contraceptives. I doubt that the God I serve would condemn me for believing that young people need and want comprehensive sex education so that unwanted pregnancies and STDs are reduced.

Aside from the irony of being a pro-life murderer, killing anyone because of a difference in opinion , values, or religion is completely against the Christian principle of love. How can we love our neighbor when there are those among us who will kill a man for being pro-choice? Where in the Bible does it say that violence is a way to “teach sinners a lesson”? In this time of Lou Engle’s call for “Christian martyrdom”,  there needs to be a real effort to connect how issues like choice and access to women’s health care are in line with being a servant to God. Or, perhaps we need to remember the words of Jesus Christ:  “Let he who is without sin cast first stone” (John 8:7).

Today is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy invites teens to take a short, scenario-based quiz on their teen website. The quiz challenges teens to think about what they would do when sexual situations arise.

This day also is  a great opportunity to think about solutions to not only teen pregnancy, but also to how we can reduce the risks of teens getting STD’s. This can be a great opportunity to consider how we talk to our youth about sex and what we tell them about protection themselves and each other.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about this subject, I believe that it takes much more than someone simply telling young people to “just say no.”  That’s not to say that abstinence should be removed from the dialogue completely, but that perhaps giving young people  a comprehensive view of how to prevent pregnancy and STD’s will allow for them to make more informed decisions.

And it goes without saying that it takes more than a day prevent teen pregnancy. It has to become an on-going part of how we engage youth in a real discussion about these issues.

A few links:

Drop it like it’s hot: If you have blogged about the National Day or would like to talk about ways to talk to kids and teens about sexuality, then drop your links in the comments section!


Wildin’ at WAM!

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the Women Action and the Media Conference sponsored by the Center for New Words in Boston. It was a great opportunity to hear about feminism from a global perspective, but more importantly, I just loved hearing the voices of some of my fellow women of color activists, mothers, organizers, and social media mavens loud and clear. Here are the highlights:

Keynote: Women at the Global Frontlines

Iraqi Journalist Huda Ahmed talked about her experiences with reporting on the Iraq War here in the states. She told us a story of how, while working as a translator for the Washington Post, the very first question reporters wanted to ask Iraqi citizens were, “Are you Shi’ite or Sunni?” ” Why was that always the first question?,” Huda thought. She explained that it is not a common question in Iraqi culture, but American reporters “had to know.”

She talked to us about being passed up for stories in favor of male journalists, and her experience with McClatchy (formerly KnightRidder): “They treated me as a journalist, not a woman.” She had the opportunity to write for a woman at the Baghdad Bureau, which she says was one of her best experiences as a reporter.

Next, Jenny Manrique Cortes tells her story about reporting on trauma survivors in Colombia. She has interviewed terrorists in Colombia as well as rape and kidnapping survivors. “Women are the first victims in this war, and in the worst way,” Jenny explained. She also discussed covering  a story about mothers looking for the corpses of their assassinated sons, and the importance of mental health assistance for trauma reporters.

Peta Thornycroft gives us an picture of Zimbabwe. She chose to stay in the country to give hard news reports on the political and social landscape in Southern Africa. “Zimbabwe is looking for how they can survive each moment, how they can buy even half a loaf of bread.”  Since November, 4,000 Zimbabweans have died of cholera, a preventable disease, and yet  foreign press has not done anything.  In the excitement over the 2008 election in America, “[Foreign press] failed to tell the story,” she said.

“It is that other kind of war. Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate, and yet no streetlights.”

I will say that I loved the keynote presentation by all of the journalists, but I do wish there was a native Zimbabwean woman there to tell her story…Perhaps this can happen at next year’s WAM!.

Keynote 2: Cynthia Lopez, Vice President of PBS American Documentary | P.O.V.

Cynthia Lopez gave some incredible statistics about women working in TV and Public Broadcasting:

  • In 2008, 37.6% of women worked in the newsroom 14% of them were women of color. How many men were deciding the news of the day? A whopping 62%.
  • Radio: 22.7% of women work in radio
  • Entertainment and Primetime: Women over 40 account for less than 10% of all program, and yet they are the largest demographic for money and income.
  • Our 5 major media organizations in public tv are run by women, including NPR (Vivian Schiller) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (Pat Harris).
  • Oh and by the way:  PBS is the most trusted news source, followed by CNN and Fox News (!) respectively.

When hearing these stats, I couldn’t help but think about my own sorors, friends and colleagues who work in the newsroom, most of whom are women of color.  How many of them will be passed up for a man when it comes to who will write that next big story?

I also couldn’t help but think about my mom, a fly woman over 40, who can barely find a woman besides Angela Bassett on ER who really speaks to her own experiences on primetime television.

Blogging for the Man: Challenging the Commodity of Online Communities

Joanne Bramberger of PunditMom, Veronica Arreola of Viva La Feminista and media analyst Diane Farsetta discuss how to manage PR people when they want you to, in essence, sell a product on your blog. They talked about the ways in which corporations become “part of the community.” The Walmart Mom model was discussed as an example of how mommy bloggers were targeted by PR representatives .  Joanne discussed the importance of creating campaigns that are socially conscious and then finding bloggrs who write about related topics.

So what happens when you do agree to review, say, a new eyeshadow from MAC or Sephora? “You can be honest, but be careful of panning a product completely,  Joanne explained. “Give the company a head’s up if your review is going to be [a bad one].”

Feminist Blogging during Election 2008 and Women in Political Media

Cyn3matic discusses her experiences group blogging with PFLAG and Feminists for Obama along with Veronica Arreola. Jenn Ponzer from Women in Media and News discusses the way that mainstream media perpetuated the tensions between gender, race and a lack of attention to intersectionality.

Lisa Stone of BlogHer and Salon’s Rebecca Traister talk about the lack of women in political media and what the media talks about when they talk about women before, during, and after the 2008 Election.  They discussed the lack of influence of women on our major news networks and Michelle Obama’s stigmatization as an “angry black woman” at the beginning of the campaign.

Art, Activism, and Motherhood

Jeannine Cook, founder of Positive Minds, discussed balancing being a mother with the work she does in interactive media literacy with Philadelphia youth. “I make my kids a part of my work.” What a great example Jeannine becomes of her son and daughter, who will no doubt grow up to become change agents in their own right.

Sasa Ynoa, a registered nurse and doula  talks about homebirth as an option for women of color and poor women. “Feminism has not tackled motherhood as a choice and as something that should be framed as a healing experience, as empowerment.”

Women of Color and Social Media

Where are all the women of color social media mavens? Chances are she’s right in front of you. Shireen Mitchell and Glennette Clark discuss the importance of a social media policy in the workplace and the factors for the lack of women of color in Top 50 and Top 100 listings of the best and brightest social media professionals and developers. “[Women of color] should be masters of social media because we are experts at community building,” said Shireen, who also pointed out that our offline behavior and attitudes should not be much different from what we do online.

For instance, if I write about Black women in the media (which I do) then offline I should be doing work that reflects that (and in fact, I do!). Many people on Twitter for instance have thousands of followers but never engage with them online….@iamdiddy anyone?

Thus, many of the “social media experts” are white males. Through sometimes pompous self-promotion, they position themselves as key influencers. Glennette and Shireen explain that women, especially women of color, don’t do this as often as we should. There’s no reason why Corvida Raven shouldn’t be on next year’s Top 50 list. Shireen and Glennette also launched SocialMediaWOC, an online community that will highlight the great work of women of color in social media today.

And finally….

Tweets is Watchin: Of course no wrap-up of mine would be complete without the conference Twittter Feed (#wam09) for those who want to join in.

I had an absolutely great time. For those of who you I had the pleasure of meeting…good to see you. For those who weren’t there, I hope you can make it to WAM 2010!